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Government accused over compensation for terror victims 'blown to smithereens'

Published 10/06/2016

Office buildings in London's Docklands, damaged in an IRA bomb blast in 1996
Office buildings in London's Docklands, damaged in an IRA bomb blast in 1996

Human rights laws are being used by the Government as a "defence for doing nothing" to secure compensation for IRA terror attack victims, peers have heard.

The Ulster Unionist Party's Lord Empey slammed the use of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as an "obstacle", as he urged ministers to consider the rights of the "people who were blown to smithereens".

He has tabled proposed legislation designed to allow the Treasury to prevent the release of frozen assets owned by those involved in supplying arms to terrorist organisations until a settlement is reached with their UK victims.

Lord Empey's focus fell on those injured and killed as a result of IRA attacks sponsored by the regime of former Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, which supplied Semtex explosive and other weapons.

The former Northern Ireland Assembly member said his measures would attempt to give the UK Government the powers to "right the wrongs" done to the victims of Gaddafi-sponsored terrorism, with attacks including the 1996 London Docklands bombing.

But Government spokesman Viscount Younger of Leckie said the Asset Freezing (Compensation) Bill would be in breach of the UK's obligations under UN Security Council resolutions, EU sanctions regulations and the ECHR.

He added it could result in legal action against the UK by those forced to pay "extortionate compensation" simply to gain access to their assets.

Speaking during the Bill's second reading, Lord Empey said he was shocked by the Government's reply.

He said: "Only we in this part of Europe, let alone anywhere else, could come up with the European Convention of Human Rights as an obstacle in the path of getting funds for the victims.

"What about the rights of the people who were blown to smithereens? Have we got the whole world on its head? That is a defence for doing nothing.

"We are talking here about the state of Libya, the successor to Gaddafi, whenever it emerges from whatever struggles it is having."

Lord Empey questioned if Britain has asked its counterparts in Europe and at the UN to develop proposals to secure compensation.

He said: "Have any of these people turned us down? That's what we need to find out.

"We're not asking for anything and why are we not asking for anything? Is there a hidden hand somewhere - a deal somewhere in the background that we know nothing about? Why not?

"Our responsibility is to the people of the United Kingdom first and last."

Lord Empey said the attacks are not a private matter for victims to pursue with the Libyan government, adding the UK Government should be "up front and centre" in dealing with the matter.

Labour offered to take part in talks aimed at developing amendments to help the Bill progress.

Earlier, Viscount Younger explained the difficulties with the legal implications of the Bill and how they would work.

He said: "The human rights issues relate in particular to the settlements referred to in subsection five of the Bill.

"Depending on what is meant by this provision it could amount to the denial of a fair trial in breach of article six of the ECHR or a breach of the right to enjoyment of property in article one of protocol one of the ECHR.

"The person, entity or state whose assets are frozen may be forced to pay extortionate compensation simply to get the asset freeze lifted.

"They may also take legal action against the UK Government to make good their losses."

The Bill was given an unopposed second reading and will undergo further scrutiny at committee stage in the Lords.

But it is unlikely to become law if it fails to secure Government support.

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